As a video of a middle-aged woman shaming and rebuking a young girl for wearing a short dress in a restaurant went viral, memory of an incident that took place two decades ago flashed across my mind.
Though the setting and times were different, yet there was an uncanny similarity between the two incidents. The place was the staff- toilet of a girls’ college where I was teaching. As I entered the washroom I got a shock to find our no non-sense, dynamic, energetic principal scolding a girl in the lavatory. Standing in front of the full size mirror, she was reprimanding the girl for wearing shorts, “Look in the mirror. You should be ashamed of what you are wearing….exposing your thighs.” In her no-holds- barred style the principal was admonishing the girl for dressing up inappropriately. However, the similarity ends here. It was not a random ‘aunty’ ‘moral policing’ the young girls at a public place but the principal of a college rightfully cautioning the girl for her inappropriate attire.
That was late 90s when most girls used to dress up modestly. The times have changed. Girls today are bolder, westernized and audacious in their attire. But I wonder if the choice of outfit can be disassociated from the socio-cultural environment. In liberal west it is quite normal for women to wear short revealing dresses, but while visiting conservative Arab countries they are issued advisory to dress up modestly to avoid unnecessary gaze. The message: Better to be dressed appropriately than to get unwarranted attention.
Coming back to recent incident of an outrageous outburst of a middle- aged woman against the girls, the behavior and conduct of the woman was highly objectionable. Asking men to rape the girls absolutely disgusting and vulgar! To Link sexual assault on women with the length of her dress is indeed a reflection of a sad, regressive mindset. Time and again it has come into light that rape has nothing to do with the dress of a woman. If that is the case, women in burqa should be absolutely safe but that is not true.
The recent incident led to outpour of disgust and anger in the social media against the ‘aunty’ (that is how the woman has been addressed in the social media). She has been ridiculed for her totally unwarranted shocking outburst against the girls. Faced with severe criticism and tremendous backlash on the social media the woman had to apologize.
Progressive young women have come out in large numbers on social media platforms to question the primitive attitude and regressive outlook, not just of this woman in particular but also the society at large. However, expressing wrath in the virtual world and winning the battle on social media is quite different from questioning the patriarchal mind-set in the actual world. Real challenge lies in changing the mindset of the society and educating men to treat women with respect. And, of course, it is also important for women to maintain their dignity.
(Published in momspresso on May10, 2019)